The Crush November 2022 - 4

Robotics & Autonomy in Farming
by Michael Miiller
Last month, FIRA USA 2022 was held at the Fresno
Convention Center. The 3-day event included a
demonstration of autonomous farming and agricultural
robotics solutions. The event also included panel
discussions on a variety of topics related to autonomy and
robotics. FIRA (translated from French to English) stands
for " International Forum for Agricultural Robotics. "
A quick survey of the convention floor and sitting in on a
few panels revealed the immense opportunity available
to growers and the incredible need for this equipment.
This technology may truly represent the future of farming.
This article answers some key questions around the use of
robotics and autonomous equipment in vineyards.
Why is this technology needed?
The need for autonomy & robotics reflects several
realities facing growers. First, the need for workplace
safety is the highest priority. While growers take every
precaution to keep employees safe, ag work can come
with some inherent risk of workplace injury. That risk can
be substantially reduced or eliminated with the use of
robotics and autonomous equipment.
Second, we have a workforce that is declining in numbers
and aging out quickly. When there are not enough
agricultural workers available, the use of this technology
will offset and alleviate the workforce shortage.
Third, growers are highly motivated to manage pests
and diseases in an environmentally friendly manner. New
technology offers more precision application of pesticides
and herbicides. This makes regulatory compliance much
easier and creates the opportunity to document that
compliance more substantially.
Fourth, as California moves away from diesel and gasoline
farm equipment, the need for electric equipment is on
the rise. The most contemporary electric farm equipment
is often also autonomous. Self-driving electric tractors
are being manufactured here in California and are being
tested in California vineyards.
Lastly, drought is a serious challenge that unfortunately
will likely be with us well into the future. Use of robotics
increases a grower's ability to
conserve water by measuring
precisely where and how much water
is needed.
How do autonomy & robotics affect " precision
viticulture? "
Precision viticulture uses geo-positioning or geolocation
to know where exactly the vineyard, and everything within
the vineyard, is located. This enables the assessment of
spatial variation within the vineyard or vineyard block,
which winegrowers can use to make better decisions.
Robotics use the Global Navigation Satellite System
in measuring key vineyard parameters, such as water
availability, vine leaf/canopy temperature, and plant vigor.
Absent robotics, precision viticulture would be less precise
and less effective.
Is this equipment safe?
The technology that is available today (and is continuing
to be developed) is incredible and impressive. Most
importantly, it is incredibly safe.
For example, exposure to herbicides can be eliminated
entirely by use of a self-driving machine that follows a
mapped-out course through the vineyard. This equipment
uses sensors and spraying tools to apply an herbicide
ONLY where a weed is detected and then to apply ONLY
the smallest amount needed.
Additionally, the technology for use of sensors at the
front, back and sides of a tractor eliminates the potential
for people to be too close (at an unsafe distance) to an
operational tractor. This same technology is currently
being proposed as standard equipment on all new cars
and trucks in the next few years.
The operation of the equipment is also inherently safer
for the person operating the machine. Operating a
machine from a laptop computer is always going to be
safer than operating that same machine from on board the
What are the obstacles to full utilization of this
Generally speaking, costs and the availability of electricity
and broadband can be a challenge for many growers.
Robotics and autonomy need to pen out financially or
it's not really viable for that grower. Additionally, the use
of electric autonomous tractors
demands the ability to recharge
batteries or to have a ready
supply of back up batteries. In
many remote areas, recharging
batteries on-site is not a viable
Page 4 | November 2022
Continued on page 5

The Crush November 2022

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Crush November 2022

The Crush November 2022 - 1
The Crush November 2022 - 2
The Crush November 2022 - 3
The Crush November 2022 - 4
The Crush November 2022 - 5
The Crush November 2022 - 6
The Crush November 2022 - 7
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The Crush November 2022 - 12